Father Abraham, March 20, 2011
The fullness of joy is to behold God in all. — Julian of Norwich
They say that if you decide to explore your family tree, be prepared for some surprises. Our Father … Abraham. Abraham is the father of the Jewish people, Abraham is the father of the Muslims. Jesus was a Jew, so Abraham is the father of Christians, too. The roots of the spiritual family tree of the people of Abraham started with a man and his wife who were too old to have children. Yet, they are called by God, to leave their home, to go away, to do what Yahweh (Jewish name of God) asked them. Abraham is to be the father of many nations.
What happened? God’s call seems impossible. Abraham’s response is shocking. Sarah laughs. And so the story of a journey as people of God begins.
According to Bill Moyers, one of our favorite people, “God calls Abraham to leave his home, promising him that he will father a great nation. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, journey to Egypt ,where Abraham asks Sarah to pretend to be his sister for the sake of survival. “God is founding a dynasty, the beginnings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One might expect the storyteller to paint the First Family ten feet tall, with several coats of whitewash. But the picture we get of these men and women is uncomfortably human.There is so much marital conflict and sibling intrigue that they almost forfeit the call and fumble the promise. Yet the storyteller refuses to clean up their act. This is the amazing thing about the people of Genesis. The more we talk about them, the more they look like people we know – — faces in the mirror.” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/genesis/program5.html
In order for Abram to become a great nation, he and Sarai will first have to have a child. Most of the drama that develops from this point forward in the plot focuses on how the characters—Abraham/Abram, Sarai/Sarah, God, and others —seek to bring this aspect of the promise to fulfillment. We know that Sara was a little impatient – her maidservant Hagar had a child with Abraham and his name was Ishmael. Sara was jealous or something about this, cast off Hagar and baby, and would have left them for dead. Her husband stepped in and gave Ishmael his own land and his own progeny, who were not to be enemies, but brothers, cousins. From the people of Ishmael began the Islamic families.
Chapter One of the Qur’an is the prayer of Muslims to Allah:
In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. [All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds – The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful, Sovereign of the Day of Recompense. It is You we worship and You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path – the path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.
They are praying to the God of Abraham.
When Jewish people pray the Shema, they say:
|Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
|Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
|V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
|V’hayu had’varim ha’eileh asher anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom al l’vavekha.
And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.
|V’shinan’tam l’vanekha v’dibar’ta bam
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them
|b’shiv’t’kha b’veitekha uv’lekh’t’kha vaderekh uv’shakh’b’kha uv’kumekha
when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
|Uk’shar’tam l’ot al yadekha v’hayu l’totafot bein einekha.
And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
|Ukh’tav’tam al m’zuzot beitekha uvish’arekha.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Jesus, whose followers were later known as Christians, taught his friends a simple prayer. There are several versions. In the New Testament of the Bible, it reads as follows: The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2-4 scripture version)
2 And he said to them, When you say your prayers, say, Father, may your name be kept holy and your kingdom come.
3 Give us every day bread for our needs. 4 May we have forgiveness for our sins,
as we make free all those who are in debt to us. And let us not be put to the test.
(Luke Chapter 11 verses 2 to 4 from the Bible in Basic English, New Testament first published in 1941).
So, one man, Abraham, is the progenitor of a motley brood of contemporary Westerners. Though the history of humanity has seen Christians, Jews, and Muslims in conflict, war, and dissension, this is not what is meant to be. The final part of the Lord’s promise to Abraham states that the families of the earth will be blessed through Abram (12:3b). God makes promises to Abram and his descendants with the result that all of the peoples of the earth will benefit
The first nine verses from Genesis 12 tell the story of God’s call upon Abraham’s life, and it is a call repeated to each one of us. This is a call to move beyond three very human, powerful and deep-seated fears —fear of the unknown that we cannot control, fear of others who are different from us, and fear of personal powerlessness in the face of impossibilities.
The journey of Abraham bears semblance to the path of the seeker. It is a journey from clarity into a future of genuine and profound ignorance, a journey from what is owned to what is given away, from the known to the unknown, from the familiar to the stranger. In his journey, a person chooses to live without total control, without all the answers, and only the promised of the freedom to ask questions, a stranger in a strange land which will become a home.